Hibernation

A while back, Danny sat next to a man on an airplane whom he had never met before.  Danny struck up a conversation with him…

I’m going to stop right there for a minute.  Do you do that?  Strike up a conversation with someone whom you’ve never met before?  Danny does.  I do not.  Let’s make that the topic of my next blog, shall we?

…and discovered that the man was a former Midwesterner, transplanted to a large metropolitan area in northern California.

During the course of the conversation, this man said to Danny, “You Midwesterners.  You hibernate in the winter and you don’t even know it.” 

Danny told me about the conversation when he returned from the trip.  From the phrasing of the man’s statement, I gleaned two things:  He no longer considered himself a Midwesterner, and (now this might be a bit of a stretch, of course) he considered his new, metropolitan lifestyle as more advanced and enlightened.

This is but one of the reasons why I do not talk to strangers on a plane.

Anyway, he was absolutely wrong.  Oh, not about hibernating in the winter.  We definitely do that.  But we know we do it.  In fact, I, for one, look forward to it.

Danny, not so much.  We are rapidly approaching the shortest day of the year.  There is but a hint of sunrise above the horizon as he leaves for work in the morning.  By the time he returns home, the sun has been down for close to an hour.  The only time he sees our farm during the daylight is on the weekends.

But what he does see, in my opinion, is even more spectacular.  During his commute on the dark country roads, he sees the brilliant, winter night sky!

When we first moved to our farm and were still living in the cabin, we parked our vehicles inside the barn and walked from the barn to the cabin – a distance of about twenty yards.  We intentionally do not have a constantly-lit yard light.  So, one winter night I arrived home from a meeting, parked my vehicle, turned off the barn light and stepped out of the barn.  It was a completely clear, totally moonless night and I was instantly disoriented because it was so dark.  In fact, I could not even see my hand in front of my face.  Literally!  I know this because I put my hand in front of my face and could not see it!  When my eyes finally adjusted somewhat to the darkness, I slowly made my way towards the cabin by carefully noting what I was walking on – concrete, grass, blacktop. 

And then I looked up.  I remember hearing myself gasp.  The twinkling stars were so unbelievably brilliant!  I know they are often described as diamonds, but until you’ve seen it, the phrasing just really doesn’t do it justice.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans have not seen it.  Or at least don’t see it from their homes.  Light pollution is real, and researchers are just beginning to understand the detrimental effects of light pollution on a person’s health.

Consider this quote I found on a government health website:

In most of the world’s large urban centers, stargazing is something that happens at a planetarium. Indeed, when a 1994 earthquake knocked out the power in Los Angeles, many anxious residents called local emergency centers to report seeing a strange “giant, silvery cloud” in the dark sky. What they were really seeing—for the first time—was the Milky Way, long obliterated by the urban sky glow.

I find that sad.  And unnatural.  And unhealthy.  The website went on to discuss the potential physical and psychological health effects of light pollution on the circadian clocks of both wildlife and humans.

My own body clock has always been set by the sun.  In summer, I average roughly seven hours of sleep per night, going to bed only after the sky is dark, and rising at the crack of dawn.  In winter, I average about nine hours of sleep per night, and struggle to stay awake longer.  When I am in a big-city hotel, I must close the blackout curtains or I get no sleep at all.

One winter evening, after the supper dishes had been cleared and the kitchen cleaned, I changed into my pajamas and fluffy robe.  Danny looked at me, surprised, and asked, “You put your pajamas on already? What if somebody comes to the farm?”

I looked at him incredulously.  “Why on earth would anyone come to the farm this late?!” I asked.

Then I glanced at the clock.  It was 7:15.

You know how a 30-minute TV comedy can be seen in roughly 20 minutes by zipping through the commercials?  Well, in winter, it takes Danny and me about 45 minutes to watch it because we take turns dozing off. One of us will wake up and say, “Oh, I think I fell asleep.  Rewind it, would you?”

So yes, we are fully aware that we “hibernate” in winter.  But I will not apologize for that.  That stranger on a plane may consider himself “enlightened”, and that’s okay.  But, as for me, I’ll take the dark.

(It was a night sky that brought us permanently to the farm.  You can read all about it in the first chapter of my third book, The Return to the Family Farm.)

Next Week:  No Time to Chat

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